Wednesday Recipes: Relaxation Edition

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, everyone who is planning to cook up a feast has probably already settled on the recipes they’re planning to use for the main, side, and dessert dishes. We’re not looking to add more stress to the preparations for the big holiday feast by suggesting that someone change their plans here at the last minute. However, we do want to help out. So, to do that, we’ve got a couple of great margarita recipes to help all of the cooks (who are 21 and older) relax after the cooking is done and the dish detail has taken over the kitchen out of gratitude for a meal well-prepared.

It goes without saying, of course, that the first step of any recipe involving alcohol is “put the car keys away” and the second step is “drink responsibly.” Assuming that you’ve completed those two vital pre-recipe steps, feel free to proceed to the “make and enjoy” stage and try one of the drinks below!

Frozen Mint Margarita

1 cup sugar
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
2 cups water
3/4 cup tequila, divided
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
3 to 4 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)

Combine first 3 ingredients and 1/2 cup tequila in a medium saucepan over medium heat; cook 3 minutes or until tiny bubbles form around edge of pan. Remove tequila mixture from heat; steep 15 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl; discard mint. Stir in juice, Grand Marnier, and remaining 1/4 cup tequila. Cool to room temperature. Add bitters, if desired.

Place mixture in a zip-top plastic bag; seal and freeze 2 hours (alcohol will separate). Knead bag to combine mixture. Pour 2/3 cup margarita into each of 6 margarita glasses.

Jamaica Margarita

1 cup dried hibiscus blossoms* (about 2 ounces)
3 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups tequila
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
8 lime slices

Place blossoms in a strainer; rinse under cold water. Combine blossoms, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Strain; discard blossoms. Cover and chill hibiscus mixture.

Combine hibiscus mixture, tequila, juice, and Triple Sec. Serve over ice. Garnish with lime slices.

*Hibiscus blossoms can be found at Latin grocery stores. Boiling the blossoms in a sugar-water mixture and then steeping infuses more flavor than just steeping them in warm water. This drink is especially good when made with premium-quality tequila.

Tech Talk Tuesday: Nikon D810 Review

Earlier this month, we received a Nikon D810 DSLR with an 18 – 140 mm lens to take out and test. After several weeks of going around and capturing some interesting images around town, I can safely say that the D810 is a great camera for the novice or the more experienced photographer. It has intuitive controls, handles switching between different modes and environments very well, and has a smooth learning curve.

First, though, let’s talk specs. The Nikon D810 has a 36.3 megapixel sensor measuring 35.9 mm x 24 mm, excellent auto focusing and image stabilization built-in to the camera, and can capture continuous 5 frames per second for still images. It has the standard SD slot as well as a CF slot, can connect to a computer via a USB cable, can be set for low or high lighting environments with an ISO sensitivity running from ISO 64 – 12,800. It comes with a plethora of modes including portrait, landscape, nighttime, indoor, and action modes to let you flip between settings quickly and easily. The tech specs on the D810 are nothing to sneeze at — it’s one of Nikon’s best new full-frame DSLRs to date.

However, technical specifications only tell a small part of the story when it comes to this camera. The real story comes with using it. The controls, as said earlier, are extremely intuitive. You may need to consult the manual for some of the more advanced features and menus but, for the most part, you can pick up this camera, charge the battery and insert it, and start taking photos quickly. Even switching into manual and adjusting the ISO, aperture, and shutter settings is easy. Once you get the hang of it, you can take some rather stunning photos even if, like me, you’re a complete novice at photography.

Another great thing is the ability to quickly and easily switch between modes and automated settings and then flip back to manual and dial in the more detailed settings without having to start over again. Some cameras will punt you straight back to your previous manual settings but the D810 doesn’t do that — if you change the mode from portrait to landscape and then go to manual, it keeps the settings from default landscape so you can make tweaks to the settings from there. This is an absolute gift if you’re doing outdoor photography since you will wind up spending a lot of time adjusting the white balance and ISO to get the exact effects you want. Or, at least you’ll do that if you’re as picky as I am.

One annoyance I ran into, though, is taking photos in a shaded area with the sun out. Frequently, I had to move around to get enough light even with low light settings dialed in. The D810, like many other cameras, had a hard time figuring out what to do when I was standing in a lit area but shooting into a shaded area in the woods. However, much of that can probably be put down to photographer error because, otherwise, the camera frequently seemed to read my mind when on Auto Mode.

Lastly, this camera has an nice and easy learning curve. Within three hours, I felt like I had a really good handle on most of the modes and settings on the D810. True, there are probably many more things I have to learn and the manual has come in handy for showing me some things I’ve missed but, overall, I am quite happy with this camera and have plans to add it to my Wish List for Christmas.

Motion Picture Monday: Big Gaming News

The past few weeks have seen the release of several new big video game titles. If there is a gamer in your life, chances are that they may be looking forward to getting one of these great games for Christmas. However, as a non-gamer, you might not know what the games are about or whether they are appropriate or not for certain ages. So, in an act of extreme sacrifice, I have sat down and played through some of the top titles so that you don’t have to.

The first game up is Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. This is a quasi real-time strategy game where the goal is to become the top civilization through whatever means you decide to try. Earlier Civilization games, such as the still hugely popular Civilization V, let you achieve victory by diplomatic, scientific, or conquering means. Civilization: Beyond Earth continues that trend. It’s got a steeper learning curve than earlier Civilization games. Starting with the premise that you are leading a colony seeking to establish itself on an alien world, Civilization: Beyond Earth takes the gameplay to a completely different scale than earlier games. It is quite easy to while away an entire night in this turn-based strategy game. The game is rated E for Everyone but does contain mild fantasy violence and requires a good grasp on planning and strategy as well as reading so it is not recommended for young children unless they have a parent to help them with some of the more complicated controls and information screens.

The next game up is World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. World of Warcraft has been around for ten years — a record in the world of MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games). Most MMOs peter out after five years but World of Warcraft is still going strong after ten. Warlords of Draenor takes place in a new version of Draenor (the Outlands from The Burning Crusade) where things are different due to the Warchief Garrosh Hellscream mucking with the timeline. Many of the classes have beefed up spells and abilities. There are, as always with a WoW expansion, new dungeons, raids, and quests along with new areas to explore, new profession skills to learn, and a new twist to an age-old tale. However, anyone looking to get started with Warlords of Draenor should know that World of Warcraft, like any MMORPG, is a massive time-sink. However, WoW’s creator, Blizzard, does allow for parents to set up parental controls on their children’s accounts to ensure that homework is done and bedtime is respected. Parents are also encouraged to monitor their children’s friends and contacts to make certain that no personal information is being exchanged until the parents have given permission for it to be done. The game itself is rated T for teen with fantasy violence. The game itself contains no explicit nudity very little foul language.

The last big title to check out is Dragon Age: Inquisition. This is the latest installment in the Dragon Age universe and continues the journeys started in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. BioWare has even set up a website to help players from the original games import their settings and decisions into Inquisition so that they don’t have to start all over again. Throughout the game, the main character — a character whose role and position is strictly up to the player — finds and recruits allies in their quest to return order to Thedas. Dragon Age: Inquisition contains a massive world with much to explore and many side quests to join in. Players can easily spend up to sixty hours completing the main storyline and probably sixty to eighty hours beyond that tracking down all of the side quests. The game is rated M for Mature meaning it should be played only by those age 18 and up. Companions can be romanced, as in Dragon Age: Origins, and the game does contain intense fantasy violence, blood, and sexual content. The main quest itself also requires the player to have a fairly mature outlook and sometimes gives them only the choice between bad and worse.

If you’re looking for something to give the gamer in your life this holiday, these three games are great for gamers of various ages and will give hours of great gaming entertainment making them well worth the price.

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

It’s been another interesting week in the world of tech. This week has seen Apple achieve some significant victories and losses as things heat up for the holiday season. There have been new bug-fixes for iOS as well as a patent drubbing in court and Microsoft deciding to start the holidays with the spirit of mockery for Apple. In addition to these normal travails in the tech wars, there have been many stories about the best gadgets and games to get for the geek in your life this holiday season.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter, we’ll recap the highlights for you below.

That’s all for this week, folks! Have a great weekend and see you again next week.

Throwback Thursday: The First Doctor (Doctor Who)

Throwback Thursday: The First Doctor (Doctor Who)

It’s a bit of an adage in the Whovian world that “you never forget your first Doctor.” Usually this means that you’ll always remember (and probably have an overly-strong attachment to) the incarnation of the Doctor whom you see the first time you watch Doctor Who. And, with the show being the longest running series in history (fifty-one years and counting), there are twelve incarnations to choose from. However, the person who made Doctor Who possible and who first brought the Doctor to life fifty-one years ago this coming Sunday deserves a very special mention in Who History which is why today, for Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at the very first Doctor played by William Hartnell.

The First Doctor was the one who set the tone for all the future regenerations. He began his adventures through time and space as an old man, a Time Lord who had grown into his elder years naturally. With his granddaughter Susan, the Doctor stole a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) and escaped from Gallifrey. Along the way, he picked up several companions beginning with Ian and Barbara, two of Susan’s teachers on Earth. He got accidentally engaged to an Aztec woman named Carmica, was the first to encounter the Daleks and the Cybermen (two villains who play a major role in Who History), and was also the first to regenerate.

The First Doctor was a crotchy, irascible old man who could be by turns arrogant and childlike. He was full of wonder about the universe but wanted to be in control of everything. He also had a habit of getting tongue-tied, something that was used to cover up the fact that Harntell suffered from arteriosclerosis which made it difficult for him to remember his lines.

Doctor Who was one of the first television series where female characters were treated as equal to the male characters. The show has always been a bit of a trailblazer, looking to the future and honoring the past. The actors who have portrayed the Doctor over the past half century have been a diverse lot. However, Harntell, the man who started it all, has a special place in Who History for anyone who enjoys this quirky British sci-fi show.

Wednesday Recipes: Turkey Time!

Thanksgiving is just eight days away and that means it’s time to get serious about preparing. If you haven’t picked out your bird yet, you might want to go and do that before this weekend. Also, if you’ve got your side items selected or, if like many others, you’re doing potluck, then once you have your big, beautiful turkey, there is only one decision left to make:

Do you want to fry it or roast it?

Please be advised that if you decide to fry it, you will still need to thaw it, first. Some friends and I made this mistake in college once we discovered we had forgotten to take the turkey out of the freezer the night before. Figuring that frying it would cause it to thaw (and that the melting water would keep it from drying out), we heated the deep fryer up to Ridiculous Heat and let the iceball bird dive in. It remained in the hot oil for about ten seconds before the ice flashed to steam and the normally-flightless turkey took to the air in a ballistic arc, landing in the nearby swimming pool.

Also, if you do decide to go with frying, please be careful with the hot oil! Don’t overheat it, avoid splashing it when you put the turkey in, and don’t overfill the basin.

Regardless of whether you fry or roast this year, we’ve got a recipe for you!

Erick’s Deep Fried Rosemary Turkey

1 (12 pound) whole turkey, neck and giblets removed
1/2 cup minced garlic
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
3 gallons peanut oil for frying
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger root

Fill an outdoor deep-fryer with the peanut oil (see tip below), and heat to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). This will take about 30 minutes.

Rub the turkey with minced garlic, salt and pepper on the inside and outside. Fill the cavity with rosemary, garlic cloves and ginger. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to marinate.

Remove the herbs and garlic from the cavity of the bird, and discard. Make sure the opening at the neck of the turkey is at least 2 inches wide. Trim skin back if necessary. This will prevent pressure from building inside. If the turkey has a pop-up doneness indicator, it must be removed beforehand.

Place the turkey in the fryer basket, or hanging device, and slowly lower it into the hot oil. Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil while it is frying. Cook for 3 1/2 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature is at 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) when taken in the thickest part of the thigh.

Carefully remove the turkey from the hot oil, and turn off the deep-fryer. Let the bird cool for 5 minutes, then pat dry.

Perfect Roast Turkey

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 fresh turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 whole lemon, halved
1 Spanish onion, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the zest and juice of the lemon and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves to the butter mixture. Set aside.

Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, halved lemon, quartered onion, and the garlic. Brush the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.

Roast the turkey about 2 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Remove the turkey to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil; let rest for 20 minutes.

Slice the turkey and serve.

Tech Talk Tuesday: Go Go Robo Vac!

Tech Talk Tuesday: Go Go Robo Vac!

In recent years, robotic vacuum cleaners have officially become a “thing.” Their earliest incarnations were slow, power-hungry, got easily confused due to the primitive AI and sensors, and didn’t really clean as effectively as, say, a ShopVac. However, their appeal wasn’t so much for the practical-minded neat-freak who wanted to make certain that the carpets were clean enough to eat off of. No, their appeal was to the geek crowd who immediately took to cracking them open, reprogramming them, and then recording the hijinks.

Robot vacuums not only make for great beginner-level killer robots — they are wonderful ways to entertain young children and pets. And — they clean the floor. Literally.

With a little bit of tinkering and programming know-how, you can turn them into more than just floor vacs. Though this article is specific to Roomba, any robot vacuum can be altered to do amazing things. They can be made to battle to the death. Or to let you play the most awesome 3D version of PacMan ever. They can even be modified to act like regular vacuums but without the heaviness or the backbreaking shoving the unit around — just use a Kinect and you can control your vacuum without ever having to touch it!

Some other great ideas include: playing pong, Robo Vacuum Chess, Robo Vacuum small dog walkers (after all, a German Shepherd can just ignore anything weaker than the average adult Homo sapiens), and Robo Vacuum Burglar Trappers.

The last one needs a bit of elaboration. Imagine a pair (or more) of robo vacuums with extendible vertical arms. Imagine two of them working together to string up the classic tripwire trap. Now, imagine those same two (or others) pulling a weighted (and, if you have access to your own Howard Wolowitz, electrified) net over the prone burglar. It’s the most awesome robot version of Home Alone you can imagine.

However, you can’t do any of these things unless you have a robo vacuum to tinker with. So, get one today and let us know what fun, weird, and high-tech hijinks you and your robo pal get up to! Also, if you order before January 20, 2015, you could get your robo vac (and anything else in that order) for free with our DigMyOrder promotion!

Motion Picture Monday: The Art of Cinematography

Cinematography is something that many of us who are fans of various television shows and movies sometimes get a bit curious about. What is it, after all? And how does it differ from photography or regular film editing? Cinematography is the art of making moving pictures and can be counted as a cross-discipline between photography and video technology since it draws from both areas to become its own form of art with a little twist of science.

One thing that cinematographers have to do is work to select a set or location that will be photogenic and will help to convey the sense of depth, mood, and dynamism that the scene they’re filming encompasses. To do this, they generally employ photographers who will go to many different locations and send back images of likely places. For example, for shooting Game of Thrones, the director of photography and the director of cinematography sent photographers to locations such as Iceland, Sweden, Ireland, Greenland, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Russia, Louisiana, and Arizona to try to determine where they would stage particular settings in the fictional world of Westeros. Other movies opted to remain on a particular soundstage or backlot set such as Back to the Future which was filmed almost entirely on the Fox back 40 lot.

Once the location has been chosen, the cinematographer works with the lighting and film crews to make certain that the proper atmosphere is staged. For example, a scene taking place in a dark, chill cave will need very special lighting and effects to be visible and to show the actors’ faces and postures. Just going in there with a camera — even a high-quality movie camera — will not be enough. The cinematographer also works with the set crew to make certain that the set won’t interfere with the camera controllers or the cameras themselves. Sometimes this means that a set has to be overbuilt or have additional access points for cameras and crew so that they can get into position to film different angles.

Once the shooting is over, the cinematographer works with the director to select the best film shots and then oversees the editing process to ensure that quality does not suffer and that the film and the frames move smoothly. He may also work with the sound tracking team to help sync up the actors’ words with the specific frames — especially in cases where the film is being dubbed into another language. Finally, he might work alongside the computer effects division to integrate special effects seamlessly into the film frames for the finished product.

Cinematography involves a lot more than just recording a movie. There is a heavy knowledge base required to be a good cinematographer. One must know a great deal about cameras, lighting, auditory effects (how to make a room sound “live” or “dead”), staging, blocking, and locations. One must also be quick to learn new computer generated effects techniques and how to handle green-screen and even matte backdrops. It is not something that is easily learned just by picking up a video camera but by following our daily blog tips on photography, etc and using the equipment we recommend via links, you could be well on your way.

Wrapping Up the Week

Wrapping Up the Week

The end of another news-filled week in the world of technology has come to a close and this cycle has been a big one for the law and order crowd. With the week ending on news that Amazon and Hachette seemed to have reached an agreement on ebooks, this is a week that has featured the odd march of tech and law from courts telling the FBI that yes, the public does have a right to know about some of their gadgets to the revelation that data collection agencies are using drones to siphon up phone meta data from unsuspecting (and non-suspect) users, this week has been a big one for arguments, debates, and courtroom drama.

All of these stories and more were featured on our Twitter feed this week. However, if you’re not following us on Twitter then we’ll recap the highlights for you below!

That’s all for this week, everyone. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you again next week!

Throwback Thursday: Flight of the Navigator

One of the seminal movies of the 1980s is The Flight of the Navigator. This film has it all — time travel, aliens, adventure, mystery, and drama. I can still remember going to see it in theaters when I was a kid and I can remember going off with my friends to explore any forests nearby in case we could find a spaceship like that one and become navigators ourselves. It also started a long-running session of begging and pleading with our parents to take us to NASA so we could see all of the cool things they had there.

If you’ve never seen it, you should definitely check it out. Even though a lot of the information in the film is dated and many of the effects will seem a little hokey, the story is still excellent and a few of the effects will match anything coming out of computer generated farms today. For instance, the door/stairs that melt and reform, looking like mercury is still great. The way that the stairs hover in mid-air without any sign of support is also very cool, even in this post-Matrix generation.

With the holidays coming up, if you’re looking for a film for the whole family to enjoy that isn’t yet another tired Christmas movie cliche, Flight of the Navigator is the way to go.